Want to inspire people to live greener lives? Turn your initiatives into competitions or make people aware of social norms. Such marketing, says social psychologist Robert Cialdini, creates the best results for turning words into action. From the Atlantic Journal,

Cialdini terms this effect “social proof.” It’s a primitive instinct, much like the impulse that drives insects to swarm or birds to flock; people take in information and respond, without being aware of why they act the way they do. “On some base level, it’s survival recognition: these are the people who are most like me—we share the same circumstances,” Cialdini explained. He sees the power of this impulse less as peer pressure and more as peer information.
Applying his studies to real world initiatives, Cialdini is tackling energy consumption with a new software program that shows how much energy you use relative to your neighbors. In 2008, a Sacramento Utility put out a pilot of the program to 35,000 homes. The results were impressive: People who received personalized “compared with your neighbors” data on their statements reduced their energy use by more than 2 percent over the course of a year. This is equivalent to taking more than 700 homes off the grid! 

Cialdini's program will start issuing similar reports by the end of 2009 to 1 million customers across the country, including in California, Washington, Minnesota, Illinois and New York.

What do you think of Cialdini's social proof? Would knowing your neighbor's energy usage inspire you to decrease your own? 

MNN homepage photo: Skeeg/iStockphoto

Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Secret to encouraging green habits revealed
Psychologist says competition and social norms push people to live more sustainable lives.